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Filipino journalist threatened over illegal mining report

A journalist in Gonzaga town on the coast of Cagayan province said the town's mayor threatened him over the phone on 20 February 2014 for reporting the persistence of illegal black sand mining in the area. The mayor has denied making the threat, and said he only warned the journalist against reporting "lies," for which he can be sued for libel.

Gonzaga is some 600 kilometers north-east of Manila.

Gonzaga mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. allegedly threatened Inquirer correspondent Melvin Gascon in a phone call on the afternoon of Thursday 20 February after complaining about Gascon's supposedly putting Gonzaga in a "bad light" in his news report on illegal black sand mining.

"Now I will tell you this, I am warning you! You just do not write anything about Gonzaga as you please. I am threatening you!" the mayor allegedly told Gascon.

The mayor even repeated the threat, said Gascon.

"Don't ever think that just because you are with the Inquirer, you can write about anything. I am threatening you!" Gascon quoted the mayor as saying.

The mayor denied threatening Gascon in an interview with CMFR on 25 February 2014.

"I can sue him for libel if he lies again about Gonzaga. That's what I meant when I warned him. I'm not going to get him killed," the mayor said.

According to Gascon's recollection of the phone call that he sent via e-mail to CMFR, Pentecostes claimed that the local government had already halted black sand mining operations in Gonzaga, but Gascon said he saw the lights of the trucks himself and confirmed with villagers that there were ongoing mining operations owned by Chinese nationals in the town.

Under the Philippine law, foreigners generally cannot mine in the Philippines. Gascon said Chinese businessmen had been circumventing the law in various ways and have been using permits for other businesses.

The mayor's statement on the issue was cut from his story in print for lack of space, Gascon said. He told Pentecostes that he had no issue with the mayor's politics and that he only interviewed the mayor's critic, environmental advocate Esperlita Garcia, to be fair.

Pentecostes told CMFR that all mining operations in Gonzaga, even the legal ones, had been stopped in the meantime due to receding shorelines. Mining machineries are required by law to operate 200 meters away from shore. The mayor, however, expressed his support for mining saying it does good things for their town.

Threats against journalists are taken seriously in the Philippines, where 139 journalists have been killed for their work since 1986, of which only 13 cases have been resolved.

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